Bay Leaf Substitute: What Can You Use?

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If Mediterranean cooking is your thing, your kitchen is probably never without bay leaves. However, if you can’t find good quality bay leaves, you have to get creative and source good substitutions for bay leaves in your recipes. 

Fortunately, I have a reserve supply of all the best bay leaf substitutes, so pick your favorite now! 

Substitute bay leaf with thyme, marjoram, oregano (both the traditional and Mexican varieties), boldo leaves, tarragon, basil leaves, rosemary, parsley, and juniper berries. Which substitute you use depends on what is locally available and what flavor profile your recipe calls for.   

Bay leaves are harvested from the laurel tree and are known for the green, slightly silvery color of the leaves. Bay leaves can be added fresh or dried to recipes. 

Fresh bay leaves are more pungent than dried leaves, and one fresh leaf is equivalent to two dried leaves or half a teaspoon of dried crushed leaves.   

What Is the Purpose of Bay Leaves in Food?

Bay leaves are a kind of herb that is commonly used in Mediterranean cooking. Add bay leaves to soups, stews, roasted meat, and poultry. 

The taste of bay leaves is akin to menthol and black pepper with a hint of pine. It has a rich, pungent taste that adds a slightly bitter taste to meaty dishes. 

9 Best Bay Leaf Substitutes

Let’s get started with the best bay leaf substitutes to keep your Mediterranean cooking fires burning if you’ve run out of the original item. 

Thyme Herb

For a well-rounded flavor, consider adding thyme leaf as a substitute for bay leaf. 

Thyme adds that minty undertone that comes with bay leaf, so add in a slightly reduced proportion of ¼ teaspoon dried thyme for every bay leaf. 

Marjoram Herb

A very useful and versatile Mediterranean herb is marjoram, and it’s a great substitute for bay leaf in recipes. Plus, you get an authentic flavor profile too. 

For fresh bay leaves, substitute in equal proportions to fresh marjoram herb leaves, but if you’re using dried marjoram, use slightly less than the number of bay leaves. 

Add marjoram at the start of your cooking so the flavor has time to release. 

Oregano Herb

Thyme and oregano are related, so it makes sense to consider oregano as an alternative to bay leaves too. 

Both thyme and oregano hit a similar minty, earthy taste that matches the bay leaf flavor well, and oregano can blend seamlessly into a recipe that uses dried and crushed bay leaves. 

Substitute one bay leaf for ¼ teaspoon of oregano leaves. 

Boldo Leaves

A similar taste to the bay leaf can be found in South American cooking with boldo leaves. Take care though as boldo leaves are much more pungent than bay leaves. 

So work on a half-half principle. For every bay leaf, add a half leaf of boldo herb, and add the boldo leaves at the end of the recipe to ensure a fresh fragrance. 

Tarragon Herb

While tarragon herb is used more in French cuisine, it can make a good replacement for bay leaves in vegetable, fish, and poultry dishes. When using fresh tarragon, chop one tablespoon of herb for each bay leaf being substituted. 

Drop your tarragon in near the end of the cooking time, give it a quick stir, simmer, and serve. 

Basil Leaves

Another popular alternative to bay leaf is basil leaf. Basil has a much sweeter taste than bay leaf, but the earthy flavor and hint of licorice and mint work well as a replacement for bay leaves. 

Substitute 4-8 fresh leaves of basil herb for one bay leaf, or if using dried bay leaf, replace a teaspoon of dried bay leaf. 

Rosemary Herb

For a similar taste, consider using rosemary herb as a substitute for bay leaf. Both have a complex flavor profile, but rosemary is sweeter and much more potent than bay leaf. 

Use rosemary in red meat recipes that call for bay leaf and also in vegetable dishes. 

Even poultry will develop a nice flavor with rosemary instead of bay leaf. 

Substitute one bay leaf with a ¾ teaspoon of dried rosemary or a small sprig of fresh rosemary. 

Parsley Herb

When I thought of substituting bay leaves, I didn’t immediately think of parsley, but the taste of parsley is a very close match to bay leaf. 

Dried parsley has a full and complex flavor that matches nicely with the earthy, minty flavor of bay leaves. 

If you are working with fresh parsley, add the chopped herb at the end of your cooking to stop it wilting completely. 

A teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley is perfect to replace one bay leaf. For dried parsley, use ¾ teaspoon for each small to medium bay leaf. 

Juniper Berries

These berries from the juniper tree are ideal (if you’re not pregnant or for young children) to match the peppery taste of bay leaf. 

Adding a sprig of rosemary can also further enhance the flavor and better replace bay leaves. 

Use only a ¼ teaspoon of juniper berries per bay leaf substitution. 

Can I Substitute Basil for Bay Leaves?

Basil makes an excellent replacement for bay leaves in all cooking, so chop one teaspoon of fresh basil for each bay leaf being substituted. Add toward the end of cooking to maximize flavor. 

Do Bay Leaves Really Make a Difference?

For the true connoisseur, the absence of bay leaf in a Mediterranean recipe is sacrilege, so don’t stint on that bay leaf or two that a recipe calls for. The minty, peppery, and slightly pine flavor will be missed if it’s absent. 

My Last Foodie Thoughts 

I’ve even found that some recipes that call for fresh bay leaves taste better if I substitute a different fresh herb for bay leaves instead of adding dried bay leaves. 

As with all recipes, it’s important to taste as you go, so I usually start with half the substitute and then add more as the flavor develops during the cooking time. 

My aunt who’s authentically from the Mediterranean (and a pain in the backside when it comes to all things Mediterranean) hasn’t even been able to tell that the lamb tagine I served last Sunday had tarragon in it and not bay leaf.

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